Thursday, September 08, 2005

Public Diplomacy

The other night became one of those nights that I really live for here in China. I say that because not only was I completely self-sufficient, getting through a very long conversation with no trouble whatsoever, but also because I changed some minds.

I was at dinner, just eating at the bar of my nearby Chinese BBQ restaurant (meat on a stick!) when the gentlemen next to me started yelling for the server. But one actually started yelling "hello!" which caused me to instinctively turn around.

This got them to crack a joke at my expense, to which I deftly responded in Chinese that I was smarter than I thought as I don't mock people who are within earshot. There jaws dropped as I went back to my dinner, but their curiosity was peaked.

They quickly began asking the routine questions: Where are you from? What do you do? Do you like Chinese food? Do you want to marry a Chinese girl? Once those were out of the way, they began to ask a few deeper questions, like: Do Americans all think all Chinese are starving? What do you think of China? Why did you come to China? Don't you think China is dirty/stupid/backwards/poor?

Now, I must say, I learned a thing or two about diplomacy while at Georgetown, and i've leard a thing or two about Chinese culture since I've arrived. I gave the two gentlemen honest answers, all in Chinese. I gave them answers that (I think) got them thinking, as after some of my replies they'd turn to each other and (once again forgetting that I could both hear and understand them) made such comments as:
"This kid is 24! He's as wise as my grandfather!"
"That is a better answer than what the Party says!"
"His school must be the best in Harbin!"

But my favorite was: "Wow. Maybe Americans are not as selfish and cruel and ignorant as we thought."

It was really great. Talking to two guys, simply being honest, meeting them with their own language, I was quite proud.

PICTURE EXPLANATION: I went to the local Botanical Garden the other day, and this sign jumped out at me. If you didn't fear the Chinese before, think again before planting that Peony.


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